Tag Archives: Trailing Spouse

Guest post by Martijn Roseboom

Let me start off with introducing myself, I am Martijn Roseboom, 39 years old, married to ‘Bee’, father of a 6 year old girl and 4 year old boy. Since moving to Switzerland I have been a full time stay-at-home dad.

These days most people meet and get married within their social circles. This is the case for us. We met during University where I was studying business economics and my Bee was studying Medicine. I recall discussing for the first time, who would be the breadwinner, as students having some drinks in a bar. When I found out what a doctor is expected to earn and compared this to my own financial prospects, I asked Bee what she planned to do with all of her money. It seemed an awful lot for shopping. The underlying and never questioned assumption underneath was that I would be the breadwinner of the family and take care of all the bills. Bee thought that this was absolutely ridiculous. For me this was one of the core beliefs of what was expected as being a man, and never had imagined otherwise. That was the start of an interesting evening full of (alcohol fueled) heated discussions.

Since leaving University and starting work, we always have been competitive (me mostly) about who would earn the most. In practice we agreed that we would both bring in 50% of the income. When moving abroad for our first international assignment, I had to give up my job and we agreed to combine all our income together. As the ‘trailing spouse’ in Singapore, without a job, I could not do anything without my wife’s signature. This led to the practical situation where I ‘adopted’ my wife’s last name and this was also clearly stated on my credit card and all other bills. This was the ultimate reversal of the concept that I had as a man and being the breadwinner. All of this changed again back to ‘normal’ when I found a job in Singapore. However now that we have moved to Switzerland, I find myself in the same situation, except that this time I at least can use my own last name and can prove this with my credit card.

Whilst it is more common to see that nowadays there are more female breadwinners out there, it is something that remains frowned upon. Whilst on a family level, this is clearly the best way forward for all of us, it is still sometimes challenging. The biggest challenge is the stereotype I have that the man needs to be the breadwinner of the house. This leads to not always appreciating the opportunities it brings. The best thing is being an integral part and see the kids growing up. The only thing I miss is more men in the same situation. It remains socially frowned upon for a married man to ask another woman out for a drink. Even if it is coffee and there are kids running around all over the place. Let’s hope this will be a normal way for dad’s to spend their mornings in the future.

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Martijn Roseboom, President Partner Committee International Dual Career Network (IDCN)

LinkedIn: Martijn Roseboom

Child psychologist

This is Clara. She moved to Basel in 2012 from the UK. Her husband had received a very good job offer and they both decided to move here together. Clara was not aware that her degree in child psychology would be less known in Switzerland plus she had to learn the German language before she could function here. After one year she felt rather useless and depressed.  In one moment she focused on your job search, the next moment she was playing with children. In another minute she opens her email account only to find that she was rejected for all the jobs she applied for the previous week.

Sounds familiar?

  • You feel disappointed and angry.
  • You blame Switzerland.
  • You blame the fact that your German is not fluent
  • You hate your partner for exposing you to this situation.
  • You might even feel like you do not know who you are anymore.
  • You stand in the line at Migros and a person barks at you and you stop to care.
  • You do not get that the cashier asks for your “Migros Card” because of his or her funny foreign and Swiss accent.
  • Maybe this is the day you called the handyman to fix a light bulb only to discover that you cannot communicate with him or her.

You are exhausted, tired, emotional and you just wish to pack up and go home. You certainly do not want to meet another Swiss person tonight. Then your wife calls to cancel the dinner you had planned for both of you.

This is the typical expat spouse experience. What often happens is that you have a “culture shock” a bit later than your (working) partner as in the beginning of the international assignment you are too busy to organize the home and settle in everyone. You are too busy supporting your children and your partner. One day, you notice that you have your own needs too. Some expat spouses therefore only have a “culture shock”  late in the first year of assignment or even the second year.

What can you do to overcome “culture shock” and focus on your job search again?

1) Develop a regular routine.

2) Go for a short walk of 15 to 20 minutes per day.

3) Practice a relaxation method such as progressive muscle relaxation.

4) Write a diary or blog to digest your experience.

5) Go on a weekend trip with your family.

6) Reconnect with friends and family.

7) Build up a social circle.

8) Meet professionals through structured networking groups.

9) Watch your eating and drinking habits.

10) Invite one person you do not know well for a coffee per week and get to know this person better.

What happened to Clara?

Clara took a course and rebranded herself. She also built up her network in Basel and continued to study in her field. Today she is working as a freelance teacher working with global children at the International School in Basel.

Tips GPT_3In my last posts on “How to find a job in Switzerland” we discussed the résumé changes (#1) you have to do for Switzerland especially as well as how to put together a set of work references (#2) and then we went on to managing the interview (#3). Some of my advice is culture-specific to Swiss culture but I believe this one is more universal.

Did you ever receive an email that was so strikingly nice that you could not resist but had to pick up the phone and call the sender? Unless this was the love of your life maybe it was a person who knows how to communicate well in writing. Let’s call her Petra. Like Petra some of us have a talent for emails. If you are one of these people you could use your talent to help other people for example by writing a referral or a recommendation or even an #FF (Follow Friday recommendation on Twitter).

If you want to write a good referral it is important that you state the strengths of the person you are talking about.  For example: You want to introduce Paul, a website developer to Susan, who is just starting her business. Ideally Paul’s strength meets a need of Susan. You could say “Susan, I recently worked with Paul. He developed my website in less than the time expected, amazed me with the end result and I even paid the price he originally quoted. With the start of your new business I thought you might need a good web designer. You can contact Paul best via email. Kindly cc me on the note so he knows that we are in touch. Petra”

If you are referring for networking purposes only you can look for a common interest of Paul and Susan: “Susan, I recently met Paul. Like you, he loves to travel backpacking style through remote locations. I thought you too would get along well so I wanted to connect you on Facebook. Is that ok for you? Petra”.

In order to do good referrals you need to kow the people in your network well. You should remember their hobbies, children and partners. You also need to learn to listen to your contacts when you go for lunch or dinner. Often, we just talk and completely forget to listen and remember details about the people we are meeting. Give it a try and let us know what happened.

Have an inspired day!

Angie

Monica is a career woman. She is successful until the day when her husband gets an offer for an international assignment to Switzerland. First, she cannot work as their two children of 4 and 6 need to get used to their new school / kindergarden. Once the kids feel settled and the new apartment is fully furnished, Monica starts looking for a job. She finds out that she has the wrong residence and work permit (the L-permit) and that her résumé gets rejected instantly. Her great experience is a corporate inhouse lawyer of more than fifteen years is suddenly worth nothing. Her former company did not want to lose her so they gave her a return option. Monica calls her former boss and asks if she can do freelance work so that at least she stays up to speed in her field.

After speaking to more lawyers she finds out that she is not an exception. Many of them work in roles that do not exactly match their experience. Then after a year Monica finally finds a role in an international corporation. A year later her husband is offered a new role in the Middle East. The discussion starts afresh.

Do you recognize yourself in this story? I have met many Monicas over the last few years especially in Switzerland, the haven for international corporations. One of the issues in my coaching sessions that comes up a lot is that women easily give up their career to move abroad with their husband. Sometimes I hear similar stories from men, but they are a lot less. Often the woman loses her professional identity which is an important part of her and feels lost for a while. Sometimes companies help with career coaching, often the woman is on her own, left alone, depressed and the relationship suffers.

Another issue is a lack of communication on the part of the assignee’s company. Sometimes women move here and find out what their work permit entails. An L-permit in Switzerland can be converted into a work permit but it is often harder to apply for a job with this permit type.

Many women or “trailing spouses” do not know how to convert their résumé so that it fits Swiss standards. The HR recruiters on the other side do not have enough international experience to “read” an international résumé.

What can you do, when you in such a situation?

1)   Gather as much information about your host labor market as possible.

2)   Find professional advice on how to adapt your résumé to the local market.

3)   Define your transferrable and global skills.

4)   Discuss freelancing with your former employer before you quit.

5)   Get a return ticket to your former employer.

6)   Discuss with your spouse how your career will benefit from the move.

7)   Agree on a long-term vision of both of your careers and how they will fit in your life plan.

What is your view?